5 Assisted Living Trends Prompted by the Pandemic

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people sitting together in living space at legacy midtown park dallas


Courtesy HKS

Living space at Legacy Midtown Park in Dallas.

2. Reimagined living spaces

“The biggest thing COVID has shown is that small living is better, both from a safety standpoint and from a social standpoint,” says San Francisco-based architect and gerontologist Alexis Denton, associate principal with the global firm Perkins Eastman.

To make settings feel less institutional and more like home, designs are moving toward small “neighborhoods” of residents, in which 10 or 12 suites are clustered together to limit the number of staff and residents, as well as airflow, in shared spaces. Independent and assisted living communities may focus on smaller scale, decentralized common spaces instead of large common spaces shared by an entire building.​

This trend began several years ago with skilled nursing facilities and is now moving into assisted and independent living spaces given that it allows for better infection control and an increased feeling of community.

The New Jersey-based Green House Project specializes in this trend. The nonprofit organization creates living environments that are an alternative to traditional nursing home care facilities, designing them differently in terms of size, interior design, organizational structure, staffing patterns and other features — all to look and feel like a “real” home.

The pandemic has also changed the way architects and designers are approaching meal spaces. To go along with the uptick in “grab-and-go” meals, Wollschlager says designers are creating nooks within smaller living spaces to offer space for a bite to eat — something that wasn’t thought of before COVID, given group seating in community dining rooms.

“For months residents had to eat in their own room, so if we have to go back to that,” she says, “they’ll have someplace to eat.”

At the same time, multipurpose spaces are moving from the center or back of a complex to the front, so there’s more room for subdivided visitation spaces, and those can be insulated from other areas.

“Visitors don’t have to go as far into the community and therefore expose someone or be exposed themselves,” says Grant Warner, a principal at HKS, an international architecture and design firm based in Dallas.

Warner, a member of the firm’s senior living practice, adds that for nursing homes, new designs more closely replicate a typical residence: “We wouldn’t invite someone to come right into our bedroom. We would invite them into our living room or den.”

Other new multipurpose-space uses: donning and disposing of personal protective equipment, testing and evaluating visitors, providing temporary workforce housing, and hosting public outreach activities.

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